The Progressive Lawyers Group has pressed the government to extend Hong Kong’s anti-bribery laws to cover the chief executive – one of the 60 recommendations the group made on Thursday.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam vowed to extend the law when she ran for office in 2017, but the lawyers said she has not yet fulfilled her promise.
“The government put forward a proposal on the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance after only 20 days of public consultation, and conducted the first and second reading in early April,” said PLG convenor Billy Li. “Compared with the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, it shows that [Lam] has no intention to deal with this issue, so of course we are worried that she will go back on her word.”
The group on Thursday launched an annual report on Hong Kong’s rule of law, which had a list of recommendations addressed to various government branches and sectors of society.
The group said the government should amend the Societies Ordinance – the colonial-era law used to ban the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party (HKNP) last year – as well as seek independent legal advice on whether to prosecute former chief executive Leung Chun-ying over the UGL scandal.
The police and correctional services also needed reforms to improve the treatment of protesters, inmates and people facing arrest, the group said.
The report was divided into eight chapters, which also addressed the courts, the anti-corruption watchdog, the legal profession, academia, the media and the business sector.
A major threat to Hong Kong’s rule of law is China’s central government, Li added: “The Standing Committee of National People’s Congress doesn’t just affect Hong Kong’s rule of law through interpretation of the Basic Law, but also through decisions like the one on the joint checkpoint plan [for the high-speed rail terminal].”
The group, made up of about 100 practising lawyers and students, said they did not want to give a “simplified” grade on the city’s rule of law, but said that in general it was an “uphill battle.”
Hongkongers should be more aware that “rule of law” is different from “rule by law,” the group said, noting that the confusion was partly the fault of top government officials who conflate the two.
Convenor Jason Ng said that the chief executive was unwilling to accept criticism concerning Hong Kong’s rule of law.
“Every time she talks about rule of law in Hong Kong, she is in denial. She is very bent on projecting this image of Hong Kong being Asia’s world city,” Ng said. “Every time I hear her speak at press conferences, I’m like, do we live in parallel universes where we are seeing different things?”
Umbrella Movement trial
The group also criticised Lam and the Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng, saying that they should have resisted Beijing’s comments on the trial of the Umbrella Movement activists.
Nine activists were convicted of public nuisance charges on Tuesday, and the verdict was met with approval from China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang. Lu said the Occupy movement severely impacted the rule of law in Hong Kong, seriously harmed the city’s prosperity and stability and affected the normal lives of Hongkongers.
However, the PLG convenors said that the comment could affect the independence of Hong Kong courts, especially since the activists might wish to appeal.
“It may give the public an impression that, the case is very severe so the court should give a harsher sentence,” Li said. “It might also make the public question whether the court ruled in a particular way because the foreign ministry said so. This is doing an injustice to [the courts].”
Lam defended Hong Kong’s judicial system after the verdict, but made no reference to Lu’s words. The group said that Lam and Cheng should have spoken out more strongly.
Convenor Chris Ng said that the Umbrella Movement trial involved charges that were “outdated and repetitive,” and legal questions brought by the case may require higher courts – or even Hong Kong’s top court – to resolve.
Regarding the judgment, Li said that it was inevitable that the judge would bring some of his own political opinions into the case. However, the fact that the judge called the civil disobedience movement “naïve” showed that the judge had assumed the government would not listen to the people, he added.
The Hong Kong Free Press #PressForFreedom 2019 Funding Drive seeks to raise HK$1.2m to support our non-profit newsroom and dedicated team of multi-media, multi-lingual reporters. HKFP is backed by readers, run by journalists and is immune to political and commercial pressure. This year’s critical fundraiser will provide us with the essential funds to continue our work into next year.